Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district stretches west from downtown Omaha, through suburbs and prairie farmland, to the bluffs of the wide, shallow Platte River. It’s a district that leans Republican. In the last two decades, it has consistently sent a Republican to Congress; the only exception was in 2014. And though Barack Obama was the voters' choice in 2008, it has otherwise given its one Electoral College vote – Nebraska splits its electoral votes among districts – to the Republican candidate for president. Donald Trump won in 2016, by 6,500 votes.
In 2020, its voters once again elected a Republican congressman, by a margin of more than 14,000 votes. But those same people, on the same ballot, chose Joe Biden over Mr. Trump, by a margin of nearly 23,000 votes.
In politics, voters are often more attracted to vinegar than honey. That has always been Mr. Trump’s strategy. But sometimes, the bitter taste of conflict does not agree with the electorate’s palate. And that appears to be why Mr. Biden won this election.
Across the United States, something surprising happened this year. Voter turnout hit levels not seen in a century, with both sides benefitting to some extent. The Republican Party actually picked up seats in the House of Representatives, taking a bite out of the small Democratic majority, and appears to have held the Senate, pending two January runoff elections in Georgia.
But Mr. Trump, despite motivating enough friendly voters to give him 10 million more votes than in 2016, was defeated in several states where he won last time, because Mr. Biden inspired even more new voters.
Mr. Biden’s win is a victory for the reasonable, temperate, moderate voter. That’s not every voter, but this year in the U.S., enough of them were.
Mr. Biden’s pitch centred on practical measures to make lives better, such as stronger health insurance, rather than offering the flip side of the temperature-raising, but empty, culture-war calls that are Mr. Trump’s stock in trade.
Last summer, Mr. Trump tried to gin up fears about Democrats wanting to “defund the police” while decrying racial-justice protests as outbreaks of lawlessness. Mr. Biden did not take the bait. One of his first postnomination speeches called for an end to both rioting and racial discrimination, since both are wrong and both harm innocent people. Most people can get on that bandwagon.
A lot of voters still believe that Mr. Biden is some kind of socialist who wants to take away their freedom, but he won because enough voters don’t buy it. And that allowed him to win in, among other places, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, the Rust Belt states that Mr. Trump took in 2016.
He won, at least in part, by appealing to the core of decency in most voters, of both parties. Most folks, regardless of party preference, are more complex and thoughtful than 15-second ads give them credit for.
Canada may be a very different county than the U.S., with a profoundly different history and present, but basic insights about the capacity of voters to be more nuanced and less hot-headed than data science wants them to be hold on both sides of the border.
For example, a majority in Florida this year voted for Mr. Trump. But the same people, on the same ballot, also voted to increase the state’s minimum wage by two-thirds, to $15. Four years ago, a majority of the state backed the race-baiting Mr. Trump, but, two years later, they voted overwhelmingly in favour of restoring voting rights to more than one million ex-convicts, a group that is disproportionately Black.
And in California, a state so overwhelmingly Democratic that Republican presidential candidates don’t bother campaigning there, voters strongly rejected a Democratic initiative to give the state government the green light to engage in affirmative action on the basis of gender and race.
Since a similar referendum in 1996, California has forbidden such things as preferential university admissions for racially underrepresented groups. In a majority-minority state – where every ethnic group is a minority – one might have expected voters to do otherwise. But that is not how it went down. State universities remain free to offer preferential admission on other bases, such as poverty.
We’ll have more on what it all means – and what Canadian politicians of all parties might learn from the U.S. election – next week.
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